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Ansonia School Board Threatens Lawsuit In Funding Dispute

by Ethan Fry | Apr 4, 2018 5:57 pm

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Posted to: Ansonia, Ansonia Budget 2017-2018

The Ansonia Board of Education is threatening to file a lawsuit against the city for taking $600,000 out of the school budget in January.

The school board, acting on the advice of its attorney, is arguing the move didn’t follow the proper procedures outlined in state law.

But Mayor David Cassetti’s administration maintains the money taken away from the schools properly, and that the move was part of an agreement between the city and the school district last year.

Alderman Chicago Rivers, on the Valley Indy’s Facebook page, said the $600,000 was a loan the city granted to the school last year when the school district’s state aid was in jeopardy.

The city contends that the school district eventually received the state aid that was needed, so the city should get the money back.

School officials were clearly angry during a meeting Tuesday during which they contemplated whether to file a lawsuit and have a judge intervene.

Taking money from a current budget while the school year is already underway is foolish, they said. School officials said they’ll struggle to finish the year without going into the red or laying off teachers.

“We’ve already spent that money,” William Nimons, the school board president, said. “It’s gone.”

The Valley Indy streamed the school board meeting live Tuesday. It is embedded below.

Superintendent Carol Merlone and school board member Vinnie Scarlata said public statements made by Mayor David Cassetti and other Aldermen about supporting education don’t match their actions.

“I know many think Ansonia’s the greatest city, which I once did too,” Merlone said. “But I’ll tell you what, since I’ve been in education, education is going down the drain right before my very eyes. It’s going down the drain and it’s a shame. It’s on the backs of our children.”

In Ansonia, the Board of Aldermen sets a bottom-line budget for the school district.

The schools rely heavily on state and federal aid, and are part of the “alliance district” program. Ansonia schools, because they underperform, receive extra state aid that is to be used specifically for reform programs.

School board officials pointed out alliance district money and other grants aren’t meant to replace local tax dollars. It’s money on top of what the city provides.

In general, the budget process between the school district and city hall is often contentious in Ansonia.

But this is the first time since at least 2009 the school board has threatened to sue. It comes after Mayor Cassetti called for an audit of the school district’s finances after the school board awarded a transportation contract extension without soliciting bids.

Lisa Jones, the school district’s business manager, addresses the bid issue around the 31-minute, 40-second mark of the video.

Politics in Ansonia are complicated.

There are Democrats, Republicans, and a faction within the Republican Party who believe the Republican-controlled Board of Aldermen need to give more money to the schools.

The differences played out during Tuesday’s school board meeting, as evidenced by remarks made by members John Izzo and Tracey DeLibero, who support the Cassetti administration, and Nimons and Scarlata, who do not.

Ultimately the school board decided not to proceed with a lawsuit — yet. They’re hoping they can hold productive talks with the Cassetti administration.

Izzo said the school board should hold off on a lawsuit. He questioned why the school board’s lawyer hadn’t reached out to the city’s corporation counsel yet.

“I just don’t think we want to sue the city,” Izzo said. “I think the bad press would be detrimental to our kids.”

Board member Christopher Phipps said the last thing he wants to do is initiate a lawsuit, but “What’s hurting the kids, again, is . . . when they took the $600,000 away.”

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